Product or Produce?

Dr. Barrett Mosbacker, PublisherThis article has been reposted by request. 

imageI love dessert.  One of my favorites is pecan pie.  When I sit down to enjoy a piece of warm pecan pie Ala Mode there are two things that I am careful to do: 1) I eat slowly savoring each mouth watering morsel and 2) I am very careful not to waste a single crumb.  My dog Comet studying 2can lick a plate clean but he has nothing over me when it comes to getting every last morsel of taste off of my plate! (yes that is my dog--like father like son!) 

When it comes to my dessert, I do not waste it!

Are We Wasting Our Lives and Ministry?

Dessert is trivial when compared with one's life and ministry.  One of my fears is that my efforts will be wasted.  I sometimes ask myself, "in the end, will all of my hard work and long hours, the stress in dealing with upset parents and the occasional recalcitrant employee, and the energy expended in creating a world-class Christian school prove to  be for naught?  What if the only thing imagethat I have achieved is the creation of a great product--superior students, excellent staff, and an outstanding school--but I have not borne fruit?  What if I am doing many good things but ultimately not the essential thing?  What if I am building and running a very efficient factory rather than planting and cultivating an orchard?"

If I build a great school and produce great students but those students do not grow to love and obey Christ and if they do not learn to love their neighbors--and if the fault lies with me because I failed to do what was necessary to produce spiritual fruit rather than creating a great product--then I will have ultimately failed in my calling.  I will have wasted the ministry entrusted to my stewardship.  That would be tragic.

Distinguishing Produce from Product: What Does Fruit Look Like?

To ensure that we are cultivating produce and not merely producing a product we need to be clear what produce or fruit is.  What does authentic fruit look like in a Christian school?

In answering this question I would like to expand upon the typical definitions, which include producing students who: Love Christ, evangelize, raise godly families, and who are serving in a local church. All of these are essential evidences of spiritual fruit in the lives of our students.  Unless these things are true we clearly have not produced the desired fruit.

Nevertheless, I would like to offer a broader understanding of the fruit we desire to produce -- an understanding that incorporates and expands upon our typical definitions so that the spiritual completely engulfs the secular.

Below, for lack of a more creative title, is what I call the "Educational Pyramid" for Christian schooling.  The limitations of a blog article do not permit a comprehensive treatment of each component of the pyramid so a concise summary will have to suffice.Education Pyramid

Each block of the Educational Pyramid builds upon the other. Beginning with the foundational understanding that Christ is the source and object of knowledge, the biblical doctrine of mankind's general call to exercise dominion and stewardship over creation is realized through each individual's vocational calling.  (for more information on this subject and the Creation Covenant, click here and see below.1)

Discovering and preparing for one's calling requires the development of a comprehensive course of instruction and co-curricular and extra-curricular programs.  Fulfilling one's calling for God's glory and in fulfillment of the Creation Covenant requires that one's time, talent, and treasure, realized through and arising from one's calling, be consecrated to God and to loving one's neighbor. 

Consecrating one's time, talent, and treasure through the dedication of one's vocation to God's glory and in loving one's neighbor inevitability leads to cultural transformation as Christians function as salt and light in this world.

More specifically, each block of the Educational Pyramid provides a rich framework for an expansive understanding of Christian education and for defining more comprehensively what we mean when we say we are striving to cultivate fruit, not merely create a product.

Christocentric Foundation

Christ is the ultimate source and object of all knowledge.  There is no knowledge, no truth, no harmony, no beauty, no freedom--nothing apart from Christ.  He is quite literally the Alpha and the Omega of existence and therefore of knowledge. 

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Rom 11:36, ESV)

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. (Col 1:13-18, ESV)

Covenantal Mandate—General Call to Dominion and Stewardship (Gen. 1:27-30, 2:15)

Man has been called to the twin duties of exercising dominion and stewardship over creation. This is the raison d'être of his existence—to glorify God by engaging in creative and redemptive acts of dominion and stewardship over creation under the Lordship of Christ. To subdue and rule implies the sovereign exercise of control—the subjugation of creation to man. Cultivation is a stewardship activity—the process of preserving, nurturing, and improving creation for the purpose of increasing its beauty and benefit to man.

To aid him in this task, man invents tools--some simple like a shovel, some complex like a computer.  Some are cognitive like literature or mathematics.  Some are artistic like sculpture, music, or architecture. 

If the exercise of dominion and stewardship over creation for God's glory is the raison d'être for our existence, then preparing students to use the tools required for doing so must be an important component of the Christian school’s curriculum. Students who graduate from a Christian school lacking fundamental skills and understanding in theology, science and technology, in the humanities, or in the arts will be handicapped in their efforts to glorify God through the redemptive exercise of dominion and stewardship.

Calling—Preparing for Vocation (Exod. 28:3, 31:6)

image The general call (Creation Covenant) is personalized by God’s calling and gifting of individuals for specific vocations.  Our ultimate goal is not to prepare students to be "successful" as defined by Western culture, it is to assist our students in discovering imageGod's gifting and calling in their lives even if  fulfilling that calling means they will make less money and not climb the ladder of "success". For a summary of the definition of vocation as I am using it, click here or see below1).

Cultivation--Curriculum Content

The doctrine of calling provides the theological and practical basis for providing a rich curriculum that encourages and stimulates the cultivation of the varied interests and aptitudes of our students.  This is typically accomplished by offering standard and advanced courses and electives in the sciences, the arts, and the humanities.  Our curriculum must be deep and broad enough to help students discover their interests and gifts (which are usually indicators of calling) and to prepare them to pursue their callings through higher education and work.


Our prayer and hope is that our students will consecrate their gifts, knowledge, and skills in service to God and in loving their neighbor.   Paul reminds us that, “whatever we do, whether we eat or drink, we are to do it to the glory of God.”  For most of our students, this is an abstract concept.

Using Our Gifts for God’s Glory: Making the Abstract Concrete

imageTo make this concept more concrete for 21st century students and to help them grasp what it means to consecrate themselves, their gifts, and their vocations to God, consider the following questions for class research, discussion, and debate: 

  • How do we use computers and other technology for the glory of God?
  • How does the Christian’s use of such technology differ from the non-Christian’s, or does it?

Similar questions can be asked about most any subject from history to physics.  By answering such questions our students will gain a more concrete and practical understanding of what it means to consecrate one’s work and life to the glory of God.

Using Our Gifts  for Loving our Neighbors

image Continuing with the technology illustration, consider that computers are great tools for problem solving, communication, modeling, research, and information storage and retrieval. As such, they can be used to aid man’s efforts to fight disease, speed communication, improve engineering designs and safety, make space exploration feasible, improve efficiency in the generation of power, and a whole host of activities too numerous to list here. All of these activities are redemptive in nature, i.e., they contribute to the alleviation of the consequences of the curse and promote the welfare of our community and world. Used in this way, computers become instruments of love.

Again, this same approach can and should be used for every subject we teach.  For example, how can an understanding of history be used to love our neighbors?  How can becoming proficient with a musical instrument be used to love our neighbors?

A Powerful, Living Example

One of my favorite quotes comes from Dr. Francis Collins, a committed believer and the father of the Humane Genome Project imageand as such one of the world's leading scientists.  Here is the statement he made standing beside President Bill Clinton when the announcement was made that the Humane Genome had been mapped.

"The human genome consists of all the DNA of our species, the hereditary code of life. This newly revealed text was 3 billion letters long, and written in a strange and cryptographic four-letter code. Such is the amazing complexity of the information carried within each cell of the human body, that a live reading of that code at a rate of one letter per second would takeimage thirty-one years, even if reading continued day and night. Printing these letters out in regular font size on normal bond paper and binding them all together would result in a tower the height of the Washington Monument."

For the first time on a warm summer day six months into the new millennium, this amazing script, carrying within it all of the instructions for  building a human being, was available to the world …

Without a doubt, this is the most important, most wondrous map ever produced by humankind…we are learning the language in which God created life. We are gaining ever more awe for the complexity, the beauty, and the wonder of God’s most divine and sacred gift …

It’s a happy day for the world. It is humbling for me, and awe-inspiring, to realize that we have caught the first glimpse of our own instruction book (Ps. 139:16?), previously known only to God” (Dr. Francis Collins, A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief: The Language of God, (Free Press, New York), 2006, pp. 2-3

Is this not how we want our students to fulfill their callings for God's glory and in loving their neighbors?  Does this not represent produce (fruit) and not merely a product?  Is this not for what we strive so diligently?

Cultural Transformation

Just as Francis Collins is doing, our schools should be designed to prepare our students to make positive contributions to their community and culture through personal witnessing and discipleship, scientific and economic progress, the acquisition, and dissemination of knowledge, and the amelioration of human suffering.  As Christian educators we have the opportunity to teach our students to use their learning for the glory of God and the good of our neighbors, not merely as Francis Schaeffer once put it, "for their personal peace and affluence." 

This is why Christian schools are so important--and why we must  bear fruit and not merely produce a product. 

Education in general and Christian education in particular can exert a powerful influence on our students and in turn, on the quality of our national life. To be sure, there are other powerful forces shaping our students and culture. The media, technology, and politics, to name a few, but it is the quality of the education received by those who will start families, fill pulpits, develop our technology, create our entertainment, and pass our laws that will shape the character and quality of each individual and in turn the quality of our national life.

Consequently, few callings allow one to contribute more directly to the shaping of lives and to the welfare of a nation than Christian Waterdropeducation. Like raindrops falling into a pond, Christian educators shape lives and “drop” them into communities. Each life creates ripples—some small, some large—that radiate into the community affecting it for good or bad. Like a constant rain, the drops fall year after year all contributing individually and collectively to the national pool of talent and character that ultimately shapes our nation’s character and determines our national destiny.

So How Do We Ensure That We are Cultivating Produce, Not Making a Product?

imageSo, with that as background, how do we ensure that we are cultivating fruit and not producing a product?  This may sound simplistic but Jesus provides the answer:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you.  As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (Joh 15:1-5, ESV)

Without attempting to exegete this passage, let me simply suggest that to abide in Christ so that we may bear much fruit means at least the following:


imageI find that I must guard myself against living like a "practical  atheist."  That is, if I am not diligent about prayer I can find myself working harder than I prayIf I do I may be productive but I will not bear fruit! 

Take a moment to read the following wonderful statement on reliance upon God.  As you read through this substitute preacher/preaching for teacher (administrator)/teaching/administrating. (You can download this in PDF format by clicking here or read it online at Christian Classics Ethereal Library.)

The Letter Killeth

During this affliction I was brought to examine my life in relation to eternity closer than I had done when in the enjoyment of health. In this examination relative to the discharge of my duties toward my fellow creatures as a man, a Christian minister, and an officer of the Church, I stood approved by my own conscience; but in relation to my Redeemer and Saviour the result was different. My returns of gratitude and loving obedience bear no proportion to my obligations for redeeming, preserving, and supporting me through the vicissitudes of life from infancy to old age. The coldness of my love to Him who first loved me and has done so much for me overwhelmed and confused me; and to complete my unworthy character, I had not only neglected to improve the grace given to the extent of my duty and privilege, but for want of improvement had, while abounding in perplexing care and labor, declined from first zeal and love. I was confounded, humbled myself, implored mercy, and renewed my covenant to strive and devote myself unreservedly to the Lord.—Bishop McKendree

THE preaching that kills may be, and often is, orthodox—dogmatically, inviolably orthodox. We love orthodoxy. It is good. It is the best. It is the clean, clear-cut teaching of God’s Word, the trophies won by truth in its conflict with error, the levees which faith has raised against the desolating floods of honest or reckless misbelief or unbelief; but orthodoxy, clear and hard as crystal, suspicious and militant, may be but the letter well-shaped, well-named, and well-learned, the letter which kills. Nothing is so dead as a dead orthodoxy, too dead to speculate, too dead to think, to study, or to pray.

The preaching that kills may have insight and grasp of principles, may be scholarly and critical in taste, may have every minutia of the derivation and grammar of the letter, may be able to trim the letter into its perfect pattern, and illume it as Plato and Cicero may be illumined, may study it as a lawyer studies his text-books to form his brief or to defend his case, and yet be like a frost, a killing frost. Letter-preaching may be eloquent, enameled with poetry and rhetoric, sprinkled with prayer spiced with sensation, illumined by genius and yet these be but the massive or chaste, costly mountings, the rare and beautiful flowers which coffin the corpse. The preaching which kills may be without scholarship, unmarked by any freshness of thought or feeling, clothed in tasteless generalities or vapid specialties, with style irregular, slovenly, savoring neither of closet nor of study, graced neither by thought, expression, or prayer. Under such preaching how wide and utter the desolation! how profound the spiritual death!

This letter-preaching deals with the surface and shadow of things, and not the things themselves. It does not penetrate the inner part. It has no deep insight into, no strong grasp of, the hidden life of God’s Word. It is true to the outside, but the outside is the hull which must be broken and penetrated for the kernel. The letter may be dressed so as to attract and be fashionable, but the attraction is not toward God nor is the fashion for heaven. The failure is in the preacher. God has not made him. He has never been in the hands of God like clay in the hands of the potter. He has been busy about the sermon, its thought and finish, its drawing and impressive forces; but the deep things of God have never been sought, studied, fathomed, experienced by him. He has never stood before “the throne high and lifted up,” never heard the seraphim song, never seen the vision nor felt the rush of that awful holiness, and cried out in utter abandon and despair under the sense of weakness and guilt, and had his life renewed, his heart touched, purged, inflamed by the live coal from God’s altar. His ministry may draw people to him, to the Church, to the form and ceremony; but no true drawings to God, no sweet, holy, divine communion induced. The Church has been frescoed but not edified, pleased but not sanctified. Life is suppressed; a chill is on the summer air; the soil is baked. The city of our God becomes the city of the dead; the Church a graveyard, not an embattled army. Praise and prayer are stifled; worship is dead. The preacher and the preaching have helped sin, not holiness; peopled hell, not heaven.

Preaching which kills is prayerless preaching. Without prayer the preacher creates death, and not life. The preacher who is feeble in prayer is feeble in life-giving forces. The preacher who has retired prayer as a conspicuous and largely prevailing element in his own character has shorn his preaching of its distinctive life-giving power. Professional praying there is and will be, but professional praying helps the preaching to its deadly work. Professional praying chills and kills both preaching and praying. Much of the lax devotion and lazy, irreverent attitudes in congregational praying are attributable to professional praying in the pulpit. Long, discursive, dry, and inane are the prayers in many pulpits. Without unction or heart, they fall like a killing frost on all the graces of worship. Death-dealing prayers they are. Every vestige of devotion has perished under their breath. The deader they are the longer they grow. A plea for short praying, live praying, real heart praying, praying by the Holy Spirit—direct, specific, ardent, simple, unctuous in the pulpit—is in order. A school to teach preachers how to pray, as God counts praying, would be more beneficial to true piety, true worship, and true preaching than all theological schools.

Stop! Pause! Consider! Where are we? What are we doing? Preaching to kill? Praying to kill? Praying to God! the great God, the Maker of all worlds, the Judge of all men! What reverence! what simplicity! what sincerity! what truth in the inward parts is demanded! How real we must be! How hearty! Prayer to God the noblest exercise, the loftiest effort of man, the most real thing! Shall we not discard forever accursed preaching that kills and prayer that kills, and do the real thing, the mightiest thing—prayerful praying, life-creating preaching, bring the mightiest force to bear on heaven and earth and draw on God’s exhaustless and open treasure for the need and beggary of man?

A Few Practical Practices

I have a very long way to go in improving my prayer life but by God's grace I have made a habit, not a perfect one but a consistent one, of doing the following, which I offer to you with the hope that these practical suggestions may encourage you in your prayerfulness so that you and I might bear much fruit.

  • Start each day with prayer.  I pray that God will "bless the work of my hands each day."  I take this prayer, believe it or not, from a statement by Satan concerning Job "Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land." (Job 1:10, ESV)  My interest in not possessions but God' blessing on my labor. I do not want to labor in vain.
  • Pray at the beginning of each meeting and prior to small and large decisions alike.  By prayer I do NOT mean a formalistic, ritualistic, obligatory prayer said before the start of meetings because this is what is expected.  I do not mean a mere habit.  I mean sincere short prayers that recognize the need for divine wisdom, God's kind providence, and the truth that  "Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. (Psa 127:1, ESV)
  • I often receive prayer requests by email.  In order to be faithful to pray, as soon as I read the email I stop to pray for the request.  If I do not pray then I am likely to forget.  Likewise, if someone asks me to pray for them at school or in church, I try to immediately say a silent prayer so that I keep my word that "I will pray for him or her."
  • By God's grace I try to make a habit of continuous, silent, short prayers throughout the day as issues arise, needs become known, opportunities present themselves and decisions have to be made--even in how best to respond to an email.  I sometimes pray before responding to emails in which I am asked for a decision or when frustration is being expressed, "Lord, help me to respond with grace, truth, and in wisdom."  Paul instructs us that we are to "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit."  (1Th 5:16-19, ESV)

The Study of God's Word

image It is disingenuous and self-deluding to expect God to grant wisdom if we are not willing to gain the wisdom and understanding that He has already given to us in His Word.  To neglect God's word is to neglect God's primary instrument for our sanctification and the source of divine wisdom and understanding.  Move beyond the five-minute devotional--read and study God's word so that you nourish your own soul and have something to give to others.

Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts. I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word. I do not turn aside from your rules, for you have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.  (Psa 119:98-105, ESV)

They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. (Joh 17:16-17, ESV)

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom 12:2, ESV)

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, ... (Eph 1:16-17, ESV)

The Worship of God and the Fellowship of the Saints

imageOne cannot grow in wisdom, cannot abide in Christ, and cannot bear fruit apart from the Worship of God and the fellowship of His people.  Just as an ember will grow cold when removed from the flame, so too our souls will grow cold if not nourished through worship and fellowship.

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." (Joh 4:23-24, ESV)

Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Heb 10:25, ESV)

How Are You Doing?

If you are like me you desire to cultivate fruit in the lives of your students, your staff, and your parents.  We do not want to reach the end of our work and our lives and look back and simply see a "product." 

Anyone can create a product.  Look around you--there are many unbelievers who are doing great things-building great products and companies, establishing great schools, making great scientific breakthroughs, exploring space, and curing disease.

The difference is that you and I are called to bear fruit, which transcends product making.  Products of any sort will end with this present world.  Fruit will abide forever.

  • How are you doing in abiding in Christ? 
  • How is your prayer life?
  • Are you studying God's word and not merely having a five-minute devotional? 
  • Are you consistent in worship and when you are in church, are you worshipping your Creator and Redeemer or are you attending church?

Don't waste your life building and running a school or teaching a class.  Cultivate an orchard. 

Without Christ we cannot bear spiritual fruit.  "As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me."

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God's fellow workers.

You are God's field, God's building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw-- each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1Co 3:6-15, ESV)



1 Vocation Defined, from Wikipedia


The word "vocation" comes from the Latin vocare, meaning "to call"; however, its usage before the sixteenth century, particularly in the Vulgate, refers to the calling of all humankind to salvation, with its more modern usage of a life-task first employed by Martin Luther.


The idea of vocation is central to the Christian belief that God has created each person with gifts and talents oriented toward specific purposes and a way of life. Particularly in the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, this idea of vocation is especially associated with a divine call to service to the Church and humanity through particular vocational life commitments such as marriage to a particular person, consecration as a religious, ordination to priestly ministry in the Church and even a holy life as a single person. In the broader sense, Christian vocation includes the use of ones gifts in their profession, family life, church and civic commitments for the sake of the greater common good.

In Religious History

The idea of a vocation or "calling" has been pivotal within Protestantism. Martin Luther taught that each individual was expected to fulfill his God-appointed task in everyday life. Although the Lutheran concept of the calling emphasized vocation, there was no particular emphasis on labor beyond what was required for one's daily bread. Calvinism transformed the idea of the calling by emphasizing relentless, disciplined labor. In the Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536), Calvin defined the role of "The Christian in his vocation." He noted that God has prescribed appointed duties to men and styled such spheres of life vocations or callings. Calvinists distinguished two callings: a general calling to serve God and a particular calling to engage in some employment by which one's usefulness is determined.

The Puritan minister Cotton Mather, in A Christian at his Calling (1701), described the obligations of the personal calling as, "some special business, and some settled business, wherein a Christian should for the most part spend the most of his time; so he may glorify God by doing good for himself." Mather admonished that it wasn't lawful ordinarily to live without some calling, "for men will fall into "horrible snares and infinite sins." This idea has endured throughout the history of Protestantism. Three centuries after John Calvin's death, Thomas Carlyle (1843) would proclaim, "The latest Gospel in this world is, 'know thy work and do it.'"